Garden Spot Village Race Recap

2 start line

Garden Spot Village Race Recap

Race: Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon
Location: New Holland, PA and surrounding boroughs
Distance: 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 11 April 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 98 km (61 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear, started at mid 40s and rose to mid 50s and sunny
Course conditions: Rugged roads through Amish country and with inclines and rolling hills. First hill is mile 5 and second hill for those running the half will be mile 8, a very steep incline. Unfortunately for those running the full, this same hill is mile 21. For those running the full, the course goes further west into Leola, PA, otherwise, half marathons make a turnaround on Peters Road at mile 7.
Preview: My first race back in Lancaster since 2010. The good news is that it was in much nicer weather. The bad news is that the hills and overall the course were extremely challenging.

Race Preview

I took Amtrak into Lancaster Thursday night and stayed with family for what was probably the first time in ages.

1 cover tent

On Friday, packet pickup opened at 2pm. If you are staying in Lancaster County, expect to spend at least 20 minutes on PA 23, as that road is a very slow road through Leola and New Holland. As I stayed in the west part of the county with family, it took us close to 40.

We arrived around 4pm hitting rush hour traffic. Check in was located on Weaver Road at the central part of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community that consisted of many complexes and apartment buildings and duplexes.

Check in was quite seamless. Check your name against your number, collect your bib, your kit and your bag and be on your way. Definitely though the shirt and bag were well done.

The Race

2-1 start

When we arrived Saturday, the start was right where packet pick up was, right in the middle. Off to the side was a slew of concessions, behind that was a tent where runners could get post-race massages. Next to that was a runners’ only post race meal tent, which awaited after we crossed the finish line.

3 band

Pre-game festivities included a band (above) and of all things, an invocation. Being agnostic, I had to remind myself where I was and almost shook when the crowd resounded with a huge “Amen”.

4 mile 1

But soon all the festivities were over and we were on our way. The gun went off and the crowd roared. I was frozen enough to wear an old mylar sheet pre-race. I would soon find out later that the sun would heat us up quite nicely.

5-1 somewhere in the middle

Mile 1
The first mile was on campus, then through another neighborhood before heading out on the first country road. I was feeling the ruggedness of Lancaster County already. Men in suspenders and women in bonnets suurounded me as did your average everyday local. It was mostly flat and fast.

Mile 2
We ran into the first slew of Amish families seated outside their homes and supposedly cheering on their loved ones. It was up an incline and hung a right as we headed toward a few houses covered by trees. First water stop was here as well.

Miles 3-4
More open farmland. We headed toward another development and down another rolling hill. Crossing a bridge that separated a farm and a junction that would lead us toward the finish line, we saw a second water stop. Amazingly I was losing water in my body at the rate that I had to use multiple cups to fill my bottle. I should have run in short sleeves, I was running in my Love Run kit from this year. Damn me.

Mile 5
Speaking of that shirt, another man dressed in that kit ran right by me. “Nice shirt!” he remarked. At least we had that badassery in common doing two half marathons in two weeks.

We went up our first large hill which was more long and rugged than steep. It took a bit of time and wind out of me, but I did manage to recover and take a first pass at an old classmate of mine who also lives in Philly now. A bit ironic because she is more fit and fast than I am. She probably was not having a good race.

After this part of the course the course opened up to traffic although caution signs were pretty much everywhere and any traffic was restricted to one way traffic.

Mile 6
Entirely downhill. It would be our first sighting of the lead male for the half, and first sighting of Mile 8, the hill from hell. The latter part took us such a steep decline that I needed energy to slow down and not run over people.

Mile 7
This was the turnaround point, marked by a large red flag. Those of the pack running the full marathon would continue past this flag, and the rest of us would turn around.

6 mile 7 turnaround

I was a bit winded at this point and stopped at the water station and the bathroom (having drank so much fluid) before the turnaround. Incidentally, my parents were right at the turnaround, but given the ruckus and the official at the turnaround point shaking her cowbells as she yelled at us to turn around, I’d completely missed them as I turned around and headed on the “good” or return side of the road.

7 horse and buggy

We passed a horse and buggy at Mile 7 as well, incidentally the horse lost the plot but thankfully it didn’t interfere with the runners.

8 amish girl mile 7

Mile 8
This. The most hilariously difficult part of the course. After we turned around, we faced the same hill we’d come down for Mile 6.

It was too steep to even try running upwards. I tried leaning forward but my calves instantly felt a nasty pull from behind. I was forced to walk and even then I felt that calf pull. I’d seen the 7min/mile runners also struggle earlier so I didn’t feel so bad. No runner around me bothered to run.

9 mile 9

Mile 9
This climb took us back through another development which thankfully meant another water stop. The last hill forced me to exhaust my water bottle, I was forced to refill.

The next incline was gradual and we went through another tree covered area. Several patrol bikers passed us by.

10 mile 10

Mile 10
Finally, another downhill. The same slow hill we acsended when approaching Mile 5 but in reverse. I passed my classmate yet again (who I’d presumed had passed me whilst at the bathroom). A great scenic view of the farmland, but the ruggedness of the roads made me want to get this run over with. We passed our second to last water stop then set off in the final part of the course.

Mile 11-12
Two flat roads on our way back to Kinzer Avenue. We went through more farmland and through some rail tracks. At Mile 12 I passed my classmate one more time and this time I left her behind.

More Mennonite families cheered us on the way back. And with that I could taste the finish line. THAT post race meal.

11 mile 13

Mile 13
Kinzer Avenue to Weaver Road to the finish line. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw that street sign. Unfortunately, I did not know how long that final mile would be – compounding that feeling was a massive headwind. We ran the final mile entirely against the headwind.

We passed an ambulance past the final development, knowing that was a key safety distance from the finish, I knew we were quite close to the end. One more bend…

….and then Weaver Road. The bright orange shirts of the volunteers. Finally. The end was near.

We made one final turn to the right and off to my left it was my parents and not far behind them, the finish line.

Boom. Complete. Not my worst time ever, managed to survive.

The Finish Line and Post Race

The first thing I saw were volunteers handing out medals. Half finishers received a silver medal with a purple ribbon and full finishers received a gold medal with a green ribbon.

12 medal

The next thing we received was a water bottle and mylar sheets. I then saw my parents direct me to the runners’ food tent, where only those with a bib were permitted inside.

The first thing we were given was chocolate milk from a local dairy. Next, we could serve tea, coffee, hot cocoa or further electrolytes if we needed. After this, we had our pick of oatmeal with toppings, turkey, chicken or veggie hummus wraps, trail mix in cups, banana or orange slices. And yes, the best part were the omelets (our pick of egg or cheese) and strata (eggs or ham).

14 meal

It was an insane amount of food and furthermore, I didn’t know of any other race that had such a post race meal. The hot food was much prepared by the kitchen staff but much of the other food plus any concessions outside were given or sold by local businesses.

15 post-food

I also caught up with my classmate.

16 post race

After leaving the tent, I queued up for the massage tent. It was a good 20 or so minutes but with 12 local therapists under the tent the queue moved quickly. I was given a chiropractor who helped stretch my quads and hamstrings and calves. It wasn’t going to fully accomplish the job but her stretches really helped.

Once I was through the tent, it was time to call it a day and head home.

Overall this race was extremely well run and supported by the community. At $75 for early registration it might seem pretty steep for a small race but the organisers really take care of the runners and the post race meal was so good. Race shirt was of good quality and design and really liked the swag bag itself.

The course was brutal but scenic and for such a well organized race with Clif gels at every water stop to boot, this race is well worth it.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 2

1 title - stadium

The Love Run 2015, Race Recap, Part 2

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

Race Preview

The forecast was clear unlike last year’s rainy quagmire but the downside was the silly low temperatures. Below freezing to be exact. Also because of a regatta, the organisers were forced to change the route of the course – it was certainly different and the second hill into Strawberry Mansion would prove to be quite unkind, though a good preview of a training run for an even more difficult course in Lancaster in two’ weeks time.

The first half of the course took us through Center City and back on the Parkway and through Fairmount Park and the Please Touch Museum. The second half went hairpin on Martin Luther King Drive but took a detour into Strawberry Mansion before getting back on MLK Drive and down to the finish on Eakins Oval.

The Race

Walking up the parkway en route to the start line, my fingers were freezing and freezing fast, despite wearing gloves. I searched in vain for City Fit Girls, but despite searching the group tent area, they were nowhere to be seen. Bag drop off was straightforward, and the corrals were set up the same they were last year, on the East end of the Eakins Oval.

1 start line

Announcements, the anthem, and a loud roar started as the race got underway.

Mile 1: Chinatown

Within the first mile, I passed several Chessie Photo photographers and tried to feature prominently such as to get captured in the moment. We passed throngs of spectators on the parkway and through Chinatown. Right on 6th Street, and another right on Market Street. Potholes on this first mile were quite annoying. Actually they were very annoying.

Mile 2: Market East

Just like last year, a DJ spun tunes as we passed the Mile 2 marker at 7th and Market Streets. It was a routine sprint back to City Hall and back to the Parkway. I recalled nearly missing this water stop last year, so I positioned myself on the left to collect my first bit of water. Steady and straightforward I proceeded, around City Hall, to JFK Boulevard, and then back on the parkway.

Mile 3: The Parkway

An increase in spectators occurred as we hung a right back on the Parkway, through Logan Circle and back towards the Art Museum. I tried to take note of some of the more funny signs, including the Grumpy Cat memes. On the way back up, I caught a few more photographers and I veered as far to the right as I could to again catch the cameras. I always enjoy looking through the race pictures 🙂

As noted in last year’s review, the key difference between this course and the Rock n Roll course was that instead of veering right to Kelly Drive, you made an immediate left to Martin Luther King Drive and then onwards to the hill that laid into Fairmount Park. This is a race that for once, does not touch Kelly Drive and it is a good way to mix things slightly up from both of Philadelphia’s fall races.

Mile 4-5: Martin Luther King Drive

Also like last year, Martin Luther King Drive took on a long stretch, crossing underneath several bridges before heading through the hill leading into Fairmount Park’s west end. As we came onto the slow and gradual painful hill leading up to the Please Touch Museum, I managed to push through and only stopped once when I felt my heart rate whirl out of control. I continued steadily up the path without too much trouble after that.

Mile 6: Please Touch Museum

We hung a right on 41st Street, which to my chagrin, like last year, was pothole central. Honestly, this race reminded me exactly how terrible, no how beyond terrible, the roads were in Philly. We passed two groups of cheerleaders as we snagged more fluid before heading the long downhill back to MLK Drive.

Mile 7-8: Montgomery Drive to Strawberry Mansion

Once we veered left from Montgomery and back through MLK, we eventually hit the second hill that led upwards to Strawberry Mansion. One part that irked me about this was that I was completely unaware of the course change – totally my fault – but also that the gels were right behind the water and Gatorade and I had hit them without warning. I actually had to TURN AROUND and nearly hit two runners as I backtracked. I was honestly pretty annoyed at the lack of warning – there honestly need to be signs on course indicating what amenities are on course.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I was staring another slow steep climb up the way to the bridge. My legs were just not feeling this climb but I forced myself up.

We crossed the bridge across to Strawberry Mansion, and wound up circling near an outdoor music hall before getting back to the bridge we’d come from. Then another right down the ramp off the bridge where we came from. Back onto MLK Drive.

Miles 9-10: Hairpin Run

We kept going up MLK Drive until the infamous hairpin turn. Normally I touch the cone at the very end of the turn for good luck but unfortunately for me, a lady was standing right above it. Darn.

2 mile 9

The way back, my lungs started getting congested. Just awesome. Not really.

Then I had to remind myself yet again that this was a training run. And that time really didn’t matter as much. Not today.

Miles 11-12: The Stretch Home

Last few water stops. I started playing a slew of music in my head. Skillet, Radiohead, Alanis, everything that could move me. It did get harder by the foot and at points I felt like I was overheating. I had taken my gloves off at least by the halfway point, but my chest felt that overheating sensation and I was out of fluid entirely.

Mile 13 and Finish: Eakins Oval

As I crossed the bridge, the spectator crowd grew. Up the last climb. One last push.

3 finish line

And like that, it was over.

Aftermath

Like last year, the first thing I saw were the medals. Quite a nifty design, though I’ve preferred some of my other medals a bit more.

6 medal

I promptly picked up my medal and then a mylar sheet to conserve heat. We made our way down to the main tent, where water bottles were set off to aside and there could have been more volunteers handing out water bottles. Our bags were small plastic lunch bags with tastykakes, a Smuckers circular peanut butter jelly sandwich, a banana, an orange and another bottle of water. Quite similar to last year.

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap: Part 1

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap and Race Report: Part 1

WARNING: Probably my longest recap yet of both a race’s expo and race itself. There were a lot of ups and downs with this race and my overall experience, that I’ve broken this into two parts. Social media is a very large component of this race’s experience as well.

For Part 2, which focuses on the race, please click here.

2-10 thetent

Race: Nike Women’s Half Marathon
Location: National Mall, Tidal Basin, L’Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 28 April 2013, 7am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 198 km (123 miles)
Weather conditions: Sunny; temperatures stayed at mid-to-high 60s.
Course conditions: 3-4 inclines along the course. Most noticeable hills were Miles 1 and 10 (up and down the I-395 ramp). By and large it was mostly flat.
Preview: Nike’s first race in the DC area as part of its Women’s Series had a lot of ups and downs from registration to outreach to how the race was run. I always enjoy running in DC, but there’s a few things that could have gone better. Okay there’s MORE than a few things that left me disappointed.

Registration Process: I had written more about the registration process here. I had bypassed the lottery process as a graduate student, paying a reduced rate and securing confirmation immediately. To make sure I don’t screw up, I will be checking MANY times for my student ID, as it is needed to secure the bib and the corral bracelet.

But again, I give these guys props for guaranteeing entry and a discounted rate (even if still on the high side) for students. Life can be miserable as a graduate student but guaranteed and discounted entry for a very popular race has lifted my spirits in more ways than one. I don’t know of any other race or race series that gives this type of preference for students.

Interface/Website:

Probably one of my main gripes about this race, and seemingly other Nike races, is that their FACEBOOK page is their main website. Several other runners have complained on FB, on Twitter, and even in person at the expo about not wanting to put everything on FB. I have also seen comments from other runners complaining about their support and quite honestly I don’t see their social media staff answering all the questions I see thrown at them on their Facebook page.

Not to mention I am one of many people looking to leave Facebook soon. (Although I plan on nuking my personal page, I may consider a running-oriented/fitness branded page…not sure yet.)

They have an email address in their FAQ for enquiries. But by placing prominence on their FB page, they are not making it any easier for people to contact them. They DO have a standalone page for registration that is integrated with their Nike+ application, but surely the race pages should be based from that site and not Facebook?

Their Twitter account, however, is very active. It seems many times when I included the official hashtag #werunDC, especially in an inquiry, they always responded. More real time interaction is in? I mean if they want to integrate other social media sites, great, but Facebook should not be the forefront of things.

Besides, Nike’s own Running app encourages social interaction, why does it need Facebook to anchor it? I do not nor have I ever worked for Nike, so I must be missing something.

I could understand if it were a small town race where the race directors are scrimping by, but it doesn’t even cost that much to run a website, and Nike Series races? Please.

But then again, whoever is running their Twitter account is quite engaging.

Props to whoever is running their Twitter account, but again a massive headache for people who simply don’t use that much social media.

Emails disseminated have been orderly and on time. No issues here. The essential information IS on their PDFs, but there are some extras on their social media sites that some people may care more about to enhance their experience.

The Expo:

The expo is being held at the Georgetown Harbour off at Thomas Jefferson Street (between 30th and 31st) off M Street NW. I know this area TOO well – it is where my favourite bakery (all time) is located: Baked and Wired. Incredible and eclectic cupcakes and a lot of bang for the buck – no lie.

2-1 the wall

When I first arrived on M Street I saw the massive wall of names on Nike’s Georgetown store and eventually found mine.

2-8 finally

I had gotten to the expo quite late in the process, and all the while I was chatting it up with Becca (@onelittlebecca) who lives in the DC area. We had been tweeting to each other and agreed to catch each other at the expo. I had been waiting in the queue which was ridiculously long when I had seen her with her boot.

Luckily that queue was moving through fast, and credit to Nike organisers for having the volunteer force to get people through. The sun was beating down on the harbour quite nastily so the heat was getting annoying quickly.

1-2 banner

1-1 tent

When I checked in, I showed her my university ID and my licence before she gave me her bib. Thank goodness it was under 8000. Numbers above 8000 would have required me to change trains and that would have been a further problem for reasons I will explain later.

I got a green bag that was required for bag check (which I elected not to make use of later on), goodies and such. I’ve had Luna bars time and time again before, but I’ve never had the Somersaults snacks before, and sampling all their varieties, I fell in love. They are absolutely delicious!

One key difference though: unlike most races, you do NOT get your tech shirt at packet pickup. You get it AFTER you finish – IF you should finish. Of all my races, this is the first one to have done it this way. Shamrock Fest (Virginia Beach) gives you a race shirt before AND another shirt or piece of swag AFTERWARDS if you finish.

The expo tent was VERY small, but there WAS a lot going on. So much, actually, that it was extremely crowded. As people came in, there was a wall of tweets and pics taken and tagged on Instagram and Twitter.

1-5 glass wall

Across from that was the Nuun sampling station, which I tried out. Earlier on, I had bought the tri-berry tablet pack to ease in with my stomach, and this was a good thing. The fizziness of the drink didn’t go down well, but if I refrigerated or left the drink warm, it was flat enough to work well with me.

1-4 nuun

Behind that section was the Nike shoe area. This was where I got my gait tested, and some shoe recs. As predicted, the attendant said I had a straight gait with slight overpronation, and recommended a stability shoe, since I was pressing quite hard on the outer edges of my feet.

1-3 green

1-6 shoes

I also got a bra fitting which helped. My racing bra is a compression bra, and a non-compression type would help in some circumstances. They recommended merchandise for me to buy at the nearby Georgetown store, but now I know what shoe to keep an eye for if I needed to purchase another Nike shoe. Very helpful overall for those people not knowledgeable enough about proper fitting bras and shoes, and considering the number of first timers here, I imagine it would have helped.

Also we had the ability to use cards that Nike gave us to see if we’d won prizes. At three different stations, we would enter the card’s code and it would tell us if we’d won. Unfortunately mine was no dice. However, I did use my Nike apps to track my runs, so attendants did give us bracelets.

2-13 cards

2-15 wrist

Other stations included products oriented towards women, and understandably so. There was the bareMinerals station where women could get their makeup done (foundation, concealer, moisturizer, bronzer, etc) and being a darker complexioned individual, I often struggled to find a proper shade of makeup, so I sat in to see what the makeup artist would say. I sat in alright, and I don’t know what it was, but I think my face was a shade lighter than what I had come in with. I didn’t look awful, but deary me. I think I’ll stick with my Estee Lauder foundation after all. (D’oh!)

1-12 gobare3

The Paul Mitchell station featured an area where women could get their hair done. I took a sample or two of their hairspray and shampoo was also included with the expo swag bag, and unfortunately I found the queue entirely too long, so I skipped this part. Not to mention I had been on my feet and wanted to get back to the hotel and rest.

1-10 Paul Mitchell mini-salon

Across from the Paul Mitchell area was where elite athletes gave talks. I was queued up for one of the Nike stations when one of my favourite runners, Shalane Flanagan was giving words of advice, and unfortunately I could not get close enough to her. Crikey.

Finally, the Luna station. I’ve always been a big fan of Luna bars, LONG before I took up running. At this station we could make signs for our encouragement and such.

2-12 blue motivation

Out back was a massive sign planted by Nike and I took a few moments to enjoy the harbourside.

1-17 sign2

1-13 harbourside

1-14 boat

Finally, feeling the fatigue in my legs, I jetted the red line back to where I was staying. Overall, I felt the expo was very cramped, and whilst the activities were very engaging, they could have used a lot more space.

This is partially my fault for not getting there until Saturday however; to Nike’s credit, they were also open Thursday and Friday. Another criticism I had heard from other runners is that their special edition shoes (which I wouldn’t buy as I feel they are too expensive at well over $100 a pair) were in short supply. As a resident of Philly however, nearby running store Philadelphia Runner did carry select merchandise themed for this race, so I could have gone there and bypassed the bedlam if I had felt the need.

The race and aftermath is covered in Part 2 of my recap.

Cheers!

Building Confidence

As I’ve said time and again, I’m restricted to a paltry three races this year, all of them half marathons, mainly because of my terrible class schedule. On the other hand, I’m taking a conservative autumn schedule knowing I will rev up for the Walt Disney World marathon in January 2014, what will be my first vacation in too many years to count. Yes, I’m doing the full to kick off 2014.

This doesn’t mean though that I cannot keep myself in line, that I cannot improve and that I cannot build confidence for each of these three halfs. The halfs are more manageable and I want to prevent the breakdown that occurred last fall so this will be the way to go.

I’m keeping my running to three times a week and weights to twice a week. That should keep things manageable even if and when I do travel for work. To boot, I am pushing myself faster even on my longer runs. Once it gets warmer I’m going to work on hills as there are 4 inclines (apparently) in the Nike Women’s Half, miles 3, 4, 6 and 10.

My body is still struggling with the wind chill and as many people have complained, the winter weather has persisted into the first few days of spring.

And it’s not just here in Philadelphia either.

Recently I got a new running belt so that should help as it is much lighter than all my training belts.

Lately I’ve been picking up more on the tempo runs. I still cannot sprint out and out like I used to when I played football (soccer), but I’m taking it one step at a time. If I can pace up continuously on my longer runs without dehydration threatening – which is very possible on an early crisp April morning – then I should be on track to PR at the Nike Women’s Half marathon.

For a long time, I struggled to push below 10-minute miles, but I am finding myself cruise much faster on the pavement than on the treadmill.

Nike recently distributed their materials for the race, it looks like Nuun hydration beverages – made from their electrolyte tablets – will be the drink on course. More to come on that later as I have never had their product and only recently have I experimented with their product, so far with mixed results.

More to come, and thanks for reading.

Running: An Integral Part of My Life

The folks over at #RunChat@iRunnerBlog and @RunningBecause – asked the community why we love running. Everyone has their reasons.

Here is my story.

It started from a challenge from my much more athletic brother and an insult hurled at me in the city park. It started from a desire to change myself.

It’s become something much more significant: a significant part of my livelihood, the friends I spend time with and so forth.

That “it” is my love of running.

I’ve always prided myself in constantly challenging myself and pushing myself in school, in career and even in sport. But after university, I was in the trenches, working ridiculous hours and no longer taking care of myself as I entered what would be a drudgery of endless work and night school shifts. I’m STILL in that massive hole and I’ll be there for another year and 3 months.

But it was in 2009, I saw the lack of energy and the lack of morale in me when I realised I couldn’t run even a city block. I started small. I decided I’d run a 5k as my intial aim was to lose weight.

Then I was invited by another friend I ran into to a group run. How in the hell was I going to keep up with the group?

And that’s when things really took off and running became more than just a temporary weight-loss solution.

I love running because I get to challenge myself in ways that are appropriate for my body. Although it’s easier said than done, to prevent injury, I run my own race, and set my own sustainable goals.

I love running because it brings me peace of mind when other things or people fail to do so. For the time that I train, all the problems I have in life – much of it family-related and the stresses of school – it just goes away when I run. I dream of what is to come, a quiet meditation, be it on the treadmill or letting part of my mind wander as I jog on the common roads (the other being aware of my surroundings of course!). No my life isn’t a fairy tale, but running also reminds me that I’m not alone in my struggles.

I love running because I have met like-minded people with similar fitness and lifestyle goals, not just with running but with life as well. There are people who look at my life and think I’m crazy. But there are people who look at me and understand and give me support when a lot of people are giving me flak. It goes from my longtime runner and colleague Sergio to the Tweeps I’ve come to know over the past 3 years of being involved with the running community. It means a lot after years of rejection from people of all walks of life, making me wonder where I’d find my place.

I love running because it has taken me places and it will continue to take me places near and far. I’ve never been to Virginia Beach prior to the Shamrock Marathon for one. You couldn’t pay me to run through Mantua on a normal day in Philadelphia as it is such a bad neighbourhood, but it feels awesome when I do run through it during the Philly Half. Future races include Miami, Chicago, and hopefully someday a race in Berlin or London. As someone who values travel greatly, this is priceless.

I love running because it also gives me a reason to go run in DC, my most favourite city to run in! (Though I’ve lived in Philly for many years, it doesn’t come close to DC!)

I love running because it reminds me of how far I’ve come and what I am capable when I put my mind to something. It has kept me in line with respect to diet and discipline both on and off the pavement. It has taught me the meaning of resilience on top of some of my life experiences. It has taught me the value of confidence and being assertive. It has also taught me the importance of giving back.

I love running because in the midst of a dreadful class schedule, the race dates give me something to look forward to and motivate me to push as hard through school as I do with my running. This semester I’m running the Nike Women’s Marathon in DC 28 April…and I’ve got to get through challenges in class as well if I’m to make it then!

Running has given me many opportunities, including career contacts even within the greater fitness community. And next week, I’m running a Valentine’s Day fun run with other local runners before a mixer with the runners. Who knows where it could take me next? It has changed my life for the better and has become an integral part of my life.

Here’s hoping my body keeps up well and for many more years to come with the awesome community that I’ve come to love.

Of Vacations and Setbacks

So this past month I finally learnt what it is like to bite off more than you can chew. I suffered the worst effects early through mid-October, with the languishing health effects putting a rather serious damper on my marathon training. Obviously Hurricane Sandy the last week of October has helped me to put everything in perspective as things out of one’s control can wipe out everything you have.

Even in the thick of things though, there are times when you wonder when the light at the end of the tunnel is going to occur.

For years upon years I’ve been screaming for a vacation, particularly one lasting more than a week, one where I am supposed to “shut off” and recharge myself, one with as little drama as possible where I can go somewhere and try something new, go to a place I’ve never been before, try new cuisine and whatnot. Squeezing a race is a bonus, it’s not mandatory for me or necessary, if it happens, it happens, but everything else also has to fall in place. Granted, although my parents have lambasted me for suggesting a race during a vacation or mini-getaway (vacation is meant to rest they say, the discrepancy runs as they define rest more so physically and myself more so mentally) thankfully I have managed to meet them in the middle when it comes to the beach and beach races. Virginia Beach in March 2011 went off without too much of a hitch. They can rest, I can run, simple as, right?

Since my university years, I’ve spent most of that time working and balancing night school, between post-bac studying, and then getting my CPA, and graduate school starting two years ago. Basically since university, if I’m not working, I’ve been stuck studying, and when I go out, the first question on my mind is whether my homework has been finished, whether I’m ready to go for the next exam. My mind wanders to the last vacation I had taken.

Exactly seven years ago, and being out of college, it was the first time I could spend my own money on a trip that I wanted. Was it tight? Yes, but I had never been able to take a vacation on my own. My best friend Mike from school wanted me to vacation with him at his parents’ home in Orlando, and for the first time in my life I saw Disneyworld. I remember being 9 and 10 and such, and other students I was with growing up all would take vacations every year or often enough. I could only imagine what it was like, and often found myself being unable to relate with many of my peers even today on experiences they had, which I lacked. Back then, with money tight, I remember being proud of being able to snag a $99 round trip fare on AirTran to Orlando (!!!) in August. (I imagine that would have to be unthinkable now.)

Admittedly, even out of university, money WAS tight for me as I paid back my student loans, paid rent (moving back home was not an option for many reasons – lack of job opportunities in the sciences for one and continued tensions with family), paid tuition for post-bac. I kept telling myself that there would be an end to this, even if it took years. That I could not put a price tag on being at peace with myself, going to work and loving it every day, but yet that time would not come until I had put in my dues at the beginning.

Of course money does not solve all problems. Even when I secured a post with significantly better pay and had some more funds to go somewhere, I struggled with the problem of lack of money being replaced with lack of time. As a result, I made the best I could with business trips, trying to get whatever sightseeing I could off the clock. I cannot complain about my trips to San Antonio, endless forays to DC, Boston, Chicago, and such. But soon, the start of graduate school even forced me to cut back on venturing out on the road and while I held the line for my first year of school, balancing a relationship, a full load of classes, full-blown travel, and training for the Marine Corps Marathon, this year, the school work – despite the same number of credits – proved to be unbearable.

One big problem: complete lack of sleep. Last year, even on the road I would manage 6-7 hours of sleep; this year I was lucky, VERY lucky with 3-4 hours. Massive problem. My classes this year required not one, but multiple deliverables per class, two of which were accelerated. Last year I would have one deliverable at most, I made sure with quantitative classes to keep up with the problems, but even this year’s normal pace (15 week) economics class, I am still having econ problem sets on top of a report and a presentation. The sheer irony is that even with illness and such setting in or even on rest days where I don’t spend the additional hour running or training, I am still up until 2-3am squeezing in studying and homework. Even on weekends I am staying up horrifically late, it’s not because I am partying with friends. And that relationship last year? Long gone (thankfully, although that’s another story).

To be blunt, I can count the number of times I have actually hung out with friends since the semester started: 3. And that’s between two entirely different groups of friends. On the upside this is where running becomes critical: one of the groups is comprised of runners and I have trained with them day in and day out, that is one way I do stay in contact with some of my friends. (And non-runners don’t seem to grasp this part.) Number of times I’ve actually been out? Until last Sunday, when I bussed out to NYC to see friends: zero.

Dropping classes is not an option for reasons related to work and travel and of course the fact that you don’t get your tuition back depending on when you drop a course. In the professional services world, you travel more over time, making it more difficult to complete my degree. In some fields, particularly accounting, there is the so-called busy season, making school nearly impossible for the spring semester for those that go through it. So unfortunately I have to bite the bullet.

In mid-October the bottom fell out. With severe lack of sleep, I became more and more heavily reliant on caffeine. It was one Wednesday where I had gone to bed at around 4am. Started work the next day at 7:30am (you read that right). Well I had 3 cups of premium coffee, followed by copious amounts of tea throughout the day. Normally upon drinking that amount of caffeine, I usually stop myself from running or undertaking exercise. Well, this go around, it slipped my mind. I ran the 6 miles or so that night and only when I finished did I realize how much caffeine I had.

The palpitations ensued and I wound up in the ER that night as I found myself drinking copious bottles of water. I needed a few days just to get my body back from breaking down underneath all that stress and to top it off I caught some nasty cold that I got from exposure in the cold outside or from the ER. All in all, I had to take the next two weeks off to get things back in order. Only after then, I have managed to run up to 10 miles or so, going up to a half marathon would be feasible for me given how I’ve been feeling as of late. A full? Probably not this year. I mulled withdrawing from the Philly Marathon, but I’ve decided to run the half instead. Finally I’ve decided to stick to halfs until I finish school. From what I can tell school will become more painful and after this semester I still have another three left.

Even Sergio warned me that the amount of time needed to properly train for a full was significant when piling on work and a ridiculous load of classes. He did agree that the strategy of sticking to halfs was feasible though particularly since I do train reliably year-round.

It’s been a painful lesson this fall, but I’ve learnt from it, and lately I’ve gotten more sleep and back on the pavement. The important thing is that I’ve been feeling better and hopefully I can move forward a happier and healthier person.

In the meantime, I’m planning my vacation next summer. San Diego, and hopefully snagging a spot in the Rock n Roll Half there in early June to boot.

No More Wardrobe Malfunctions, Part 1

Lately as I tune up for another full, I have taken a bit of inventory for all the supplies I need: socks, techwick/running underwear, sports bras, leggings, Vaseline. It becomes that much more critical when those extra miles hit you.

First thing I was having issues with: Socks. The 3 pairs of Feetures socks that I have had are just totally fine for up to 13 miles. Here’s a picture of what I own.

Comes in many hues. 6 October 2012.

Earlier this spring, I gave a shoutout to Twitter asking if there were any other brands recommended. When I did longer runs than 15 say, the Feetures just weren’t quite cutting it. I don’t know why but my toes were hitting Blisterville.

Enter Balega.

Using a voucher I received from City Sports I paid only $1 for them (street price for the pair pictured below is $10). Sweetness. I went ahead and tried them on for the first time ahead of training for the Odyssey. 14 miles final run in those Balegas.

Also comes in white as well. 6 October 2012.

One word: heaven. Leaps and bounds better than my Feetures. First off, much more comfortable just putting them on. The Feetures are good, but Balegas do seem that much better. I need to test my Balegas out though at the 20 mile mark because that is where I started having serious issues with the Feetures. 16 miles, the Balegas are also okay. If I can get there and even use them for the Philly Marathon come 18 November, it looks like I’ll be getting a few more pairs of them.

I know some of you use Thorlos out there, but I have yet to try them. What do you all think?